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The changing riverside landscape
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  Themes Homepage > Newham
The changing riverside landscape

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Dockland Disaster
To the East of the City of London, the Port of London has been an international centre of trade since Roman times. This is a view of the East India Docks in 1808. The Isle of Dogs and the new West India Docks can be seen on the right.


With the coming of steamships in the mid 19th century, larger docks were required. The Royal Victoria Docks were built in the 1850s on Plaistow Marshes. This illustration is from 1854 and shows construction of one of the massive entrance locks - the first to use hydraulic power for opening and closing.
By 1914 and the start of World War One, London's docks were thriving and could accept the largest of vessels.

The docks were a magnet for other industries, particularly those banished from the City of London by the Metropolitan Buildings Act of 1844 which proscribed noxious trades such as chemical manufacture. One of these chemical factories, Brunner, Mond and Co, was built beside the Thames in Silvertown. This is how it looked in 1895.
During World War One, Brunner Mond was given the task of purifying TNT - the high explosive used in artillery shells. This was a dangerous process and they accepted the job with some reluctance. Then, on the evening of 19th January 1917, disaster happened.

The whole factory blew up with an explosion that was felt across London. 73 people were killed and a wide area of land was completely flattened.
This is all that remained of the nearby fire station.

Local houses also took the full force of the explosion.
In all, 900 houses were damaged by the blast, making dozens of people homeless. But within a decade, new factories and houses had been built here and London's dockland industry continued to thrive into the 1960s.
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  Themes Homepage > Newham
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